"Never, never, never," I advised the new chaplain, "give a patient your personal phone number."
"But," he asked, 'what if you like them so much you could adopt their kids?"
"Well, then I'd say that fits under the category of - never! Thanks for playing, though."
Unbeknownst to him, however, I had broken my own rule too often in the last few months and my emotional emphasis was my own way of resolving to do better.
Later, however, in the midst of my passionate hunt for fried Chicken, the ringing of my cell phone caused me to miss my exit.
The sobs swelled through the phone like ocean waves threatening to drown both swimmer and rescuer.
"Chaplain, where is he? I mean, Eric's in heaven, right?"
The voice belonged to the mother of a special child who had recently died on our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
"Yes, I feel certain that he is," I said, shifting gears from fast food to food for thought.
"What's going on for you right now, Sarah?"
"I'm having nightmares where I dream that Eric is smothering and can't breathe."
"I need a favor," she said. "I liked what you wrote about Eric. "Will you write something for me again?"
"Could you write something that would remind me where Eric is and what it was like for him after he died. Tell me what he's feeling."
The Bible contains many references about heaven, but Sarah was not looking for Biblical authority - she was looking to share in another parent's deepest hope. Living these past months in a pain that was raw and brutal, she was trying to make it through her personal hell on earth - one day at a time, one prayer at a time, one phone call at a time.
So I gave it a try, and told her my dream of heaven.
"Sarah, I don't know for sure what heaven's like. The Bible tells me God prepares it as a 'place not made with hands' - so it's probably more than we could ever imagine. And if it's made by God, then heaven must be made of the best of us, of who we are, of all our hearts can collectively imagine."
It was quiet on the line and, as she soaked up what I had said, I sensed maybe she needed more. Truth is, I needed more.
"Sarah, you cared for Eric every hour of every day for years. Your love formed a cocoon of heaven for him right here on Earth. God has done no less for Eric in that he created a heaven designed by a mother's love and a father's care.
"When I think of Eric in heaven, I see him in a place where his lungs are filled with the freshest air from the most pristine mountain peaks. It is a place where he needn't struggle to find his legs. He can walk and run and jump. He can dance with butterflies and sing with angels.
"He can talk and hear and understand. He knows the joy of a million rainbow waterfalls. He knows a Father that loves him and is filled with the presence of a Mother's lullaby to comfort him."
Sarah and I spoke a little longer, and when we ended our conversation I resolved to amend my advice to that chaplain.
I'll let him know that sometimes God knows who needs to talk to you -- I think God knew I needed to talk to Sarah as much as she needed to talk to me, so He gave her the number via my big mouth. Mysterious ways.
So my new policy is, "Never, never, never give a patient your personal phone number - unless it's God's idea."